If there’s one genre all actresses give lip service to, it is their unquestioning predilection for ‘women-centric films’. But it appears that too much of that fist-pumping enthusiasm isn’t trusted by the owners of those dainty fists. When the nerve-soothingly gorgeous Kiara Advani was offered a small-budget boutique of a film, Apurva, which revolves around a female protagonist, she and her band of advisors thought it was ‘risky’, since she was already aboard a bigger, female-driven vessel called Karram Kurram. We have opined that Kiara looks her best in pretty Indian two-piece ensembles, or westernwear that flatters her delicate features. But we chose her in this slinky black thing, in that modeled-up pose, deliberately. In that arch look of hers, we think she can well impersonate a vixen who can stab a cherished ideal in the back. Don’t you agree?

How far can you trust the appearance of a man who did away with the second vowel of his surname, to the endless inconvenience of hacks like us, not to mention the number of fans who still stand by him? ‘Experimenting with looks’ is one thing, boldly putting on bad make-up is another. So, ignoring the tepid claps of those who deem this lush beard a laudable effort, pay close attention to the corners of Ajay Devgn’s mouth. Other than the fact that the brownish hue doesn’t match his hair colour, the falsity of the appendage would probably shame itinerant theatre companies dealing in mythologicals a century ago. “My name is Sudarshan,” writes Ajay incoherently. “Who are you calling Ajay?” Some think it’s an elaborate ruse to whet appetite for an OTT debut.

Safely distanced from the gravitational pull of Bollywood and its demands of a certain type of stardom, Radhika Apte blazes her own distinctive trail. Her turn as the Indian Special Operations Executive (SOE) operative in Occupied France, Noor Inayet Khan, in A Call To Spy won over audiences worldwide. As if to keep her hand in, she now lands another role that sharpens her spycraft—as the titular Mrs Undercover, written and directed by debutante Anushree Mehta. Hopping from a high-voltage, real-life heroine to what’s clearly a light caper requires flexibility; to give oneself to a newcomer requires confidence. A prettily embroidered dress this might be, but Radhika doesn’t show it off by preening before the camera. Wearing that conspicuous watch, she bunches herself up in a moment’s cogitation. Think differently, she seems to say. Won’t Kiara listen up?

Is it more permutative inevitability, one’s forced to wonder, or a designer’s eureka moment, that’s behind a garb like this—a jumpsuit split on the legs like a gown, and with a halterneck. What a laugh Taapsee Pannu seems to have had posing in it, jollity expressed keenly in those startling zebra stripes. For her choice of a movie, too, the energetic diva plumps for fusion: her next, opposite Pratik Gandhi (1992: The Harshad Mehta Story), is the feature Woh Ladki Hai Kahaan? A gritty police procedural? Nah. A gentle comedy with discreet social commentary? Nope. It’s billed as an “investigative comedy”, where Taapsee’s gutsy cop clashes with Pratik’s chauvinistic brat. The comedy is extracted from this divergent brew. Chauvinism, of course, is a shaky pedestal to draw laughs from these days, we tried to tell these guys, but they won’t listen.

Little Samisha is clearly in a foul mood. You would be, too, if on your first birthday you were dragged out of your cot early, bathed and put in a beautiful dress, then taken by your dolled-up star mom to the Siddhi Vinayak temple, subjected to smoky incense and incomprehensible chants and then made to face a barrage of flashlights and loud blandishments. Mom Shilpa Shetty, dad Raj Kundra and brother Viaan were, of course, oblivious to Samisha’s intense discomfort. “Every day this past year has brought tons of love, happiness and light into our eyes,” Shilpa would write on Instagram later that day. Samisha, meanwhile, just craves for a good day’s slumber; it would give her mum enough time to brush up her lines for Hungama 2.

Bollywood actor Shilpa Shetty arrives at studio in Mumbai.

PTI Photo

She always looked fabulous, but behind those sparkling eyes and beneath that bashful, blush-ful smile existed something, we imagine, that didn’t dissolve in Bollywood’s murky waters. We believe that Dia Mirza is above the meretricious demands Bollywood makes upon lead actresses. We forgot what her last film was, or what she was up to, when she emerges—a resplendent vision in red Benarasi—as a bride for a second time. The groom in tow is her boyfriend, Vaibhav Rekhi, a businessman. The intimate ceremony in Mumbai, we are gratified to note, had as an invitee another actress we note for her enigmatic, reserved persona: the beauteous Aditi Rao Hydari.

We approach Kim Sharma with a breezy hello, with a tone of familiarity reserved for old acquaintances. For back in the early noughties, when Kim was in the thick of new Bollywood releases, and Yuvraj Singh the prince of the Indian batting line-up, their romance promp­ted many a reference in these pages. The fading of that affair, and of her career, meant we had lost track of her. Until now, in an exquisite one-shouldered bikini tailored for ripeness, striated by the lazy sun, hair bunched up carelessly, as good as the newly-minted actress we knew well. The location, in case you’d like to meet her? Maldives. How could we disappoint you in the first ‘la dolce vita’ of the new year?

They manned up, stonewalled, attacked in spurts, stole stealthy runs, extracted errors from the Australians, relished their sagging shoulders as the sun stooped to a close. Thus, Indian batsmen saw off the most fourth innings overs by the team since 1979, staved off all the Aussies threw at them and saved the Test. Pride and self-belief played their part, but was a smidgen of that resolve meant as a fabulous welcome note for the baby girl Virat and Anushka first called their own that very afternoon? We’ll never know and, more than these tiny, wrinkly pair of feet, we can’t show more of her. Anushka recently spoke about the values she and Virat share—respect for people, love for all—and promised not to bring up a brat. We’ll hold them to her word 15 years hence. For now, we offer our congratulations.

Another happy occasion; another happy couple. Grizzled and brawny, yet possessed of a charm that spills out of good-natured eyes into that warm grin, Farhan Akhtar reaches out for a selfie that envelops wife Shibani Dandekar, all radiant and gleaming of the sea herself. On his 47th birthday, Shibani penned a very public missive to the “love of my life, my best friend, my ludo partner”. Saying she was grateful for “watching my back through it all”, she thanks “this beautifully talented genius of an artist”. Well, hyperboles were invented to be employed in the service of love!

It’s the signature gesture that generations of romancing Bollywood actors have fallen back on when running out of moves in songs—arms outstretched, head thrown back in delirious joy, about to fold in the grassy turf beneath, the azure sky above and the line of pines yonder. From Shammi Kapoor to Aamir and Shahrukh, no one has escaped its embrace. Raveena Tandon, in smashing shape still, apes that effortlessly in snowy Himachal. “Was doing a #Switzerlandkashahrukh…,” she posts cheekily. Sharply booted, zipped up and kitted in black, our heroes have to perfect their open-armed expansion many times over to win a girl like that.